PHOTO: Katarina Wolnik Vera
Text: Andrea Jover
The realfooding phenomenon is the order of the day. Every day more and more followers are jumping on the bandwagon, making this movement a great success. For a topic to become a trending topic of all conversations, two key points are needed: one, its fans (who support and defend everything that is preached) and two, its haters (who will try to disprove at all costs the basis of its foundation.) Thus, there are great consistencies and disparate opinions when it comes to following a Realfooding life. Being outrageously successful, being followed by thousands of people may not always be indicative of being a good thing for everyone. In this way, from the ART Clinic, we did not want to be less and we wanted to analyze what is happening and where the Realfooding discourse is taking us.
Realfooding originated with the idea of fighting against the dark side of the food industry and ultra-processed food. Its slogan is about defending the right to healthy food and ending the food system dominated by ultra-processed food.
After all, it aims to break away from the idea of “diet” that we are used to. Those diets that usually end with their abandonment and offer nothing more beneficial than significant periods of restriction, frustration and even harm to health. The simple fact that they are unsustainable over time makes us question them and that is why the Realfooding movement is sold more as a lifestyle than a diet. It is true that the food industry has been deceiving us for years with products marked as healthy or strategies with slimming products that are, deep down, nutritionally poor products. But the way in which Carlos Ríos, the creator of Realfooding, decides to transmit this information is what should concern us most.
The concept of Realfooding is based on the NOVA (1) system, a food classification system:
– Unprocessed or minimally processed foods (what they call REAL FOOD).
– Processed foods (Good processed foods)
– Ultra-processed foods.
The Realfooding philosophy takes these groups and establishes 3 rules around them:
- Base your diet on real food
- Complement your diet with good processed foods
- Avoid ultra-processed foods and limit them to occasional consumption.
The focus here is not so much on the way of classification but on the way Realfooding is communicated. We find a very polarized message that good processed foods are a panacea and ultra-processed foods are rubbish or horrible. We are back to the trend of dichotomising food, back to good and bad, something that we work with on a daily basis in our practice (and even more so when dealing with eating disorders).
Not only can this negatively affect psychological areas of people but also anyone who has an interest in losing weight, as it can make it difficult to achieve goals.
After all, classifying into green/red, good/bad creates this relationship of “I can’t have this” or, on the contrary, that it opens the door to always being able to eat something, such as their “real food croissants” already marketed with a “good processed” label.
On the other hand, it is interesting to comment on the evolution of this movement. When it first came to light, all nutritionists seemed to brand it as ideal and exemplary. In the end, the message it was essentially conveying is something that everyone in the business has been concerned about to a greater or lesser extent. It sells a lifestyle based on minimally processed foods of optimal nutritional quality: nothing to object to. The problem arises when, one, the message becomes polarized and, two, a whole part of the business begins to develop behind it, which in some cases damages the movement itself. It is not the same to give recommendations and have sponsorship with brands that follow the ethical line as it is to start playing with generating your own products in order to do business.
Therefore, although its initial aim was to raise public awareness about the consumption of ultra-processed foods, this movement ends up giving a high-risk vision (not only for the most vulnerable), giving rise to obsessions and promoting the development of restrictive eating behaviors.
Going into more detail, the danger lies not only in being a stimulant for the development of eating disorders but also in inculcating ideas that give food a moral value by giving force to the fact that not being able to comply with these guidelines every day will make us stop being a good realfooder. Therefore, we give a moral value to something we do on a daily basis (eating) when its main role is to meet the body’s needs. Therefore, it can be risky when it is used as a tool for self-evaluation and constant monitoring, losing the important role of nourishment.
It makes sense and it is important to question the issues that Realfooding presumes. From a professional point of view we summarize that nutrition is something that will accompany us for the rest of our lives so it does not make sense to conceive it as something fleeting, something that makes us suffer and has an expiry date. Nor does it make sense to believe in a single healthy diet for everyone. The final question is to maintain a healthy eating pattern, free from obsessive thoughts, based on a varied diet that covers nutritional needs and, if possible, respecting one’s own gastronomy and local commerce.
Thus, achieving a healthy diet for life that takes care of us.